Jason Bowdler, over at the UK American Football Scene Facebook group, has started sharing a great little weekly look back at the history of our beloved game in the UK!
The UK American Football Scene is a Facebook group for players, ex-players, coaches and supporters from the domestic game to chat and discuss all things Britball. It’s got a great, positive vibe and some really active admins that share results, stories and standings each week!
If you check out the group, you’ll see Jason’s now worked his way forwards in history a good few years, but this week we’ll be looking at his ninth instalment – 1991!
Soon after the 1990 NDMA Coca-Cola Bowl, chairman Ron Weisz announced that interest was such that the NDMA would run two divisions in 1991 with proposed promotion but not relegation between the two. This had a devastating effect on the NCMMA as practically all of its teams pledged themselves to the NDMA bar a minority who wished to play football for the BNGL, an organisation which prided itself on a no-frills, low-cost platform.
Time ran out for the NCMMA in early December 1990 when every club in the league resigned and the one-year league, born out of the ashes of the CGL was no more. Worryingly, the number of senior clubs in the country dropped again. From 134 clubs in 1990, 114 registered in 1991.
Two clubs who had been in Britball since the very beginning folded – the Manchester Allstars (who had been British runners-up in 1987) and the Chelmsford Cherokee decided to call it a day. The top flight was trimmed down to 17 clubs, with just the Essex Gladiators joining after they had been runners-up in the NCMMA in 1990. The NDMA Second Division became a nine team league with five teams in the north and four in the south.
In fact only four clubs from the NCMMA joined the Second Division – Stoke, West London Aces, Coventry and Milton Keynes, with the other clubs being made up of some of the successful BNGL National Division teams in 1990. The league also opted for two import-player rule for 1991, most teams opting for a passer and someone who could play both ways, usually at receiver and in the secondary.
In the same year the World League took place, with enormous public and press interest Wembley stadium opened its doors in early 1991 to the first ever international sporting league and it soon became the hottest ticket in town. Each team took domestic talent onto the roster. The London Monarchs choosing Bulls CB/RB Trevor Carthy and DL Nigel Hoyte along with Farnham kicker Phil Alexander and Ravens running back Victor Ebubedike. Some 46,000 people saw the opening game against NY/NJ Knights and the Monarchs never had less than 35,000 through the gates.
With a certain inevitability, the London team cruised through the regular season 9-1-0, the Barcelona Dragons inflicting their only defeat, into a semi final spot at Giants Stadium vs. the Knights where the Monarchs triumphed 42-26. The World Bowl itself was a slight anti-climax as Barcelona never really got going and London strolled to a 21-0 victory in front of over 61,000 fans at Wembley. Innovations included helmet-cam, a QBs eye view of the game, and coach to QB radio communication which would later be adopted by the NFL.
Back in the domestic league, reigning UK and European champions the Manchester Spartans went through another overhaul, this time a number of retirements and the ‘all-star’ signings they made the previous year going back to their old clubs making them significantly weaker and opting for a younger side with a British QB and just Head Coach Terry Smith as an import, playing receiver.
Everywhere else there was a theme of continuity as Birmingham had QB Dave Kramme return and signed former Fylde import Jeff Christmann who could line up at TE as well as LB. They were led this season by former Boston College QB coach Sam Timer, who bought many years of experience with him to the UK scene. Paul Bailey, the ex-Spartan who teased the Bulls for 245 yards in the 1989 final signed, as did talented OL Warren Billingham and ex-Panther Simon Dore. The Bulls were installed as early favourites for the title.
At Nottingham, QB Mike Grossner was back, bouyed by the return of Allan Brown and speedster AJ Okiwe, and welcomed hard-hitting DB Vic Quirolo from the States as their second import.
Glasgow also welcomed back a familiar QB in Darren Trainor, this year joined by ex-CFL reciever Jerome Erdman. The Lions had a talented roster, Jim Burns (RB) and Scott Couper (WR) complementing the overseas pairing and a hard-hitting D.
Talented imports Albert Higgs (Bobcats), Rodney Moors and Paul Shorten (Senators) and Johnny Atlas (Northants) also made their way back and the Leeds Cougars were armed with two talented runners when both Chris Thomas and Tiggy Bell returned. Likewise with a two-pronged rushing attack were Leicester with Warren Sweetman present as ever and import Todd Jones. They were backed by GB passer Nigel Mansfield.
BAFA ruled that for the right to represent Great Britain in the 1991 Eurobowl the champions of the NDMA, previously assumed to be the nation’s champions without question, would have to play off with the winners of the BNGL national division. This may have seemed like a good idea at the time, perhaps introducing a “Superbowl” element to British football and one of the teams involved, the BNGL’s Ipswich Cardinals were all for it. The problem lay with the other team, current NDMA Champs the Spartans who ruled themselves out and so it was left to Ipswich to be the UK representatives.
Playing at home against the French champions, Aix-en-Provence Argonauts, Ipswich battled gamely but were completely outclassed and lost heavily 51-0. After this debacle BAFA reinstated the 1991 NDMA champions as Britain’s team in the Eurobowl for the following season.
The ’91 season kicked off on 21st April, with the Spartans finding out what a tough season they would have getting blanked 28-0 by Leicester. Northants and Birmingham got off to good starts, beating the Ravens and Cougars respectively and Bournemouth’s Higgs carried on from before, helping the Bobcats to a 74-6 demolition of Portsmouth.
High-scoring games would be ever present during the season, the Bulls and Northants putting up 82 and 76 points in Week Three v Gateshead and Essex. Glasgow were taken notice of the following week, winning 76-28 against Leeds for a 3-0 start.
The Olympians, who missed out on the postseason in 1990, were quietly going about their business, remaining unbeaten in Week Six after beating Leicester 28-27, but it was the Glasgow/Gateshead matchup that had everyone’s attention. They combined for 153 points, Lions’ passer Trainor passing for 10 TD’s, opposite number Moors hitting 7 TD scores and 517 yards in a crazy Glasgow win by 91-62.
Not to be outdone, three weeks later Northants and Bournemouth had a shootout to match, the Storm winning 72-54. It produced 17 touchdowns and 1,326 yards of offence, just 48 short of the Glasgow/Gateshead match.
As the weeks went down to the final regular season game on the 7th July, Birmingham had scores of 52, 66, 62 and 55 alongside Nottingham’s potent scorings of 57,47, 59 and 69 and the non-stop scoring machines of Glasgow, Northants and even Leicester, who put 85 on Portsmouth in June.
While Bournemouth were captivating their audiences on the field, things were’t so great off it. Money troubles reared its ugly head and just two weeks before the end of the regular season and sitting at 6-2, the American imports of Higgs and receiver John Mastronadi headed home and an inevitable loss, 26-6 to Essex followed.
The Olympians had risen again, taking the Southern Conference crown and in some style, trouncing nearest rivals the Storm 62-14, Bobcats 42-8, Essex 32-13 and Brighton 62-0. They would emerge as the only undefeated team in 1991. Northants finished second at 8-2, Essex 7-3 and Bournemouth 6-4 but were unable to field a team for the playoffs so the 5-5 Thames Valley Chargers took their place.
The Northern Conference would go down to the final game – Bulls v Lions in Birmingham. Glasgow were undefeated and looking for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Both the Bulls and Hoods were 8-1 (Nottingham would trounce Leeds 69-2 the same day to finish 9-1). Birmingham had been beaten 28-25 by Nottingham but the Hoods themselves were beaten by Glasgow earlier in the season in controversial circumstances and in one of the most infamous incidents in Britball history:
At Helenvale, Glasgow in the “quarter-second game”, The Nottingham Hoods had travelled to play the Lions in a regular season game and had built a lead of 20-14 with only a few seconds left in the game. Hoods QB Mike Grossner ‘took a knee’ on 4th down to end the game but the timekeeper ruled that a quarter of a second remained in the game. Glasgow took over on downs and scored on the last play of the game, missed the extra point and the game went into overtime. The Lions won the toss and received the ball, marched 65 yards in seven plays where Lions QB Darren Trainer hit Andy McGowen in the end zone to win the game 26-20. Birmingham, with the victory would take the conference due to a superior points difference.
Glasgow started off well, taking a 12-7 lead into the 2nd period. It was only after a Jim Burns fumble that the Bulls woke up, Kramme hitting Mike Price for a score, then, after a Clive Loftman interception of Trainor, Paul Bailey went in from 5 yards and a 21-12 halftime lead. Christmann added two more scores for a 34-12 scoreline before Glasgow hit back with two Trainor to Erdman scoring passes and the Lions were suddenly back in it at 34-27. Birmingham though sealed the game as Kramme found Price again, this time from 28 yards and the Northern Conference was Birmingham’s.
Quarter-Final weekend saw Thames Valley @ London Olympians, Nottingham v Essex, Glasgow v Northants and Leicester visit Birmingham.
TVC were no match for the Olympians, the O’s recording eight sacks and six interceptions. Richard Dunkley had 237 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns in the first half alone in a 72-0 bashing.
Nottingham had little trouble with Essex either, winning 61-10 behind 4 interceptions and 4 sacks and Mike Grossner’s six TD lobs.
Birmingham and Leicester contested their age-old rivalry again, this time in the postseason. Game MVP would be Bulls DB Nigel Lewis, who bagged three interceptions. Leicester wouldn’t lie down easily though and pulled the game close to 18-25 before Christmann bagged a two-yard TD dive and Lewis intercepting Mansfield on the game’s final play for a 32-18 scoreline and yet another semi-final place.
Game of the weekend was thought to be Northants v Glasgow, both with potent offences and looking for long runs in the playoffs. The Lions though, went down hard losing 44-12 after import receiver Erdman was lost to injury early in the game and Glasgow couldn’t keep up with Northants’ rushing attack.
The Semi-final lineup bought Nottingham v Birmingham and London Olympians v Northants.
The Olympians did the double over the Storm, winning 34-12, even after RB Richard Dunkley had left the game early with shoulder and ankle injuries. The deep rushing threat continued with Tony Scarlett and Watson Jean-Pierre taking up the slack. After taking a 26-0 lead they were never in any real danger and easied themselves into their fourth Final, and looking to bag their first UK crown.
In the other Semi, The Hoods, behind a noisy Harvey Haddon crowd, went out to an early 14-0 lead against Birmingham, Clifton Mitchell and Allan Brown the scorers. The Bulls then moved the ball downfield, with Kramme finding Paul Bailey on a 17 yarder and the game was suddenly tied 14-14 when Christmann bowled over from three yards out. The Hoods took a slender half-time lead with a Tony Flippance FG before Mark Webb tied it up again in the 3rd.
The battle continued to sway one way then the other, Kramme finding Mike Price, before the Hoods tied it up once more when Grossner found Brown on a 60-yard bomb. The game turned when Bulls corner Paul Roberts snagged a Grossner pass and raced 33 yards for the TD return to make it 31-24. Grossner was picked off again and, as both defences stood firm, the Hoods failed to convert two fourth-down plays and the Bulls’ Coca-Cola Bowl spot was confirmed as Paul Bailey capped a 11-play drive with a nine-yard scoring run for the 37-24 finish.
The second Coke Bowl would take place at Alexander Stadium, Birmingham and the Bulls certainly had the majority share of fans rooting for them as they took on the undefeated and very impressive London Olympians.
QB Dave Kramme, playing his last game, steered the Bulls 60 yards in less than a minute for the field goal which sealed Birmingham’s third UK title.
Kicker Mark Webb iced a 23 yarder with 17 seconds left in the game after trailing 38-36 with 1:10 left on the clock.
The Bulls had jumped out to a commanding 36-14 lead late in the 3rd quarter before the O’s roared back, firing four touchdowns and limiting Birmingham to 14 offensive plays in the final period. London took the lead on Paul Wrights‘ bomb to Steve Sobers and were looking at the biggest comeback in UK final history before Dave Kramme led the Bulls to their game-winning kick.
NDMA SECOND DIVISION
The second tier was constructed much like the top division but with just nine teams, there were just four places to play for in postseason.
In the Northern Conference, the Coventry Jaguars, behind imports passer and scrambler Travis Hunter and TE Craig Otto, prevailed over everyone to a 10-0 regular season and they were joined in the playoff semi-finals by the Stoke Spitfires who would take on Southern Conference winners the 8-2 Cardiff Mets while the West London Aces (7-3) would travel to Coventry for the other tie.
Both were close games, Coventry coming out 36-26 winners in the first match-up. Cardiff mounted an amazing comeback from 24-6 down in the fourth Quarter to reel off 20 unanswered points behind Canadians QB Gary Layton and Tom Viasse to book their place 26-24 and break Spitfire hearts with less than three minutes to go.
The first Division Two Bowl took place at Saffron Lane, Leicester. The Jaguars’ power running game behind Dave Chambers and Derek Lawrence proving to be the factor as Coventry overturned a 21-12 half-time deficit with 38 second half unanswered points and a convincing 50-28 win.
In the BNGL, the London Capitals won their second straight title. In 1990, they had won the NCMMA league, but in 1991 they switched to the BNGL and after winning all ten regular season games really piled on the points in the playoffs. Their playoff record read as follows:
Quarter-Final vs. Farnham Knights – Won 54-0
Semi-Final vs. Ipswich Cardinals – Won 50-0
Final vs. Clydesdale Colts – Won 52-7
In the Premier, the Plymouth Admirals finished the perfect season, going 10-0 in the Southwest conference and beating the Gwent Mustangs (8-2) and LA Panthers (9-1) in the playoffs before besting the Sutton Coldfield Royals 26-16
Glasgow Cyclones (v Basildon Chiefs) 30-21
After a hard-fought UK season, the GB team travelled with great expectations to the European Championships.
They were the defending champions and as such were not subject to a qualifying tournament but they were not the powerhouse nation of ’89, the coaching staff were different as was the organisation.
BAFA ruled that only BAFA registered players could play for the Lions, which meant that no London Monarchs players could play. In GB’s favour there were to be no Germany and no Italy, both had fallen by the wayside.
In the finals GB were up against an over-the-hill Holland and an inexperienced French side, the real danger came from the home team. Finland were at that time amongst the very best and hopes were high of a home team victory. In the semi-final GB disposed of the Dutch side with little problem 49-3, a TD hat trick by the Bulls’ Lloyd O’Neil being the highlight.
In the final the Finns, having disposed of France in the other semi, handed GB their opening score on a plate following an errant snap on fourth down, the ball sailing through the punter’s hands and being recovered by GB in great field position.
QB Jason Elliot of the London Capitals scored with a minute remaining of the first quarter on a QB draw play. From then on defenses were the order of the day, Finland breaking the deadlock with a 32 yard field goal and it remained 7-3 until with sixty seconds to go in the game Jason Elliot, having a stellar game, hit Bournemouth receiver Pat Millar for a 40 yard gain, Millar being dragged down a yard shy of the end zone. On the ensuing play Olympian running back Richard Dunkley fumbled the ball which bounced into the end zone where an alert Millar fell on the ball to win the game and championship for GB.
Elliot collected the tournament MVP, and was also named as an All-Europe player, along with eight teammates who were: Barry Driver, Mark Webb, Jo Richardson, Colin Nash, Paul Roberts, Warren Billingham, Gary Mills and Bola Ayiede.
NEXT: Former Champions fold, Coca-Cola pull out and BAFA comes out of Europe